I’m a fan of Stephen Law, because his insistence that religious education should encourage independent critical thought resonates with DAN’s raison d’etre. As such, Law’s book, The War for Children’s Minds which elaborates on this idea, should be prescribed reading for all RAVE teachers (make that every teacher, Head, parent, church leader….come to think of it, anyone responsible for the education and wellbeing of children).
If you’ve already got your reading list for the Christmas holidays sorted, than there’s the 5 minute summary available (which first appeared as an op ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald in August 2007).
I’m pretty sure that Law would be in favour of the proposed “Humanist Applied Ethics” curriculum developed by the Humanist Society of Victoria as an alternative to the 30 minute lessons of special religious instruction delivered in Victorian primary State schools. Law has argued that every school, state funded or not:
present their pupils with a broad range of different political, moral and religious beliefs and arguments. It’s important alternative points of view are not caricatured or demolished as mere straw men. One way to avoid this is to allow pupils to hear these alternative points of view from those that hold them. Students should get at least some chance to actively engage in discussion with those from other faiths. And also, I should stress, with those of no faith. While many religious schools have few qualms about exposing their pupils to those from other faiths, they often get very nervous indeed about handing them over to an atheist for half an hour…
Countering concerns from groups who argue that humanism is not a religion and so should not be taught in religious education time, RMIT Professor Desmond Cahill, Head of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the body appointed by the Government to accredit all non-Christian volunteer religious teachers in Victorian state primary schools, has praised the humanist curriculum.
Our view would be that humanist studies are a legitimate world view just as Catholicism, Anglicanism or Islam is, and that none are any more provable than the rest, just as theism or atheism are no more provable than the other….I think there’s a greater realisation that Australia’s emerging as a multi-faith society, which means the acceptance of non-Christian religions … there’s an increasing realisation that the notion of religion has expanded to include all kinds of spiritualities and associated world views, including atheist and humanist world views..
Professor Cahill says he can foresee no problem with approving the new course. He also intends to approve a proposal by Muslim leaders to allow volunteers to teach religion in state primary schools. Cahill believes that, in a globalising world, students need to know about religion in a much more systematic way.
The government school system should be addressing the religious issue with more rigour and vigour… I’m leading an RMIT team to develop a new multicultural education program to be released in the new year, which will recognise that there ought to be as part of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards framework some information provided on the different faith traditions in all government schools. What exists in multicultural religious education at the moment is small and ad hoc.
But could the smoke generated by this latest debate over whether a humanist curriculum has a legitimate place under the umbrella of religious instruction, obscure a more fundamental question: a question about the way in which religious (or humanist) education is taught?
Back to Law, who urges that we “regain a sense of outrage” over BAD religious education (the type that imposes an uncritical accceptance of any belief). And by the way, if you read his book, you’ll appreciate why this isn’t a recipe for relativism…..
British Library Event (II), Stephen Law Blog, 15 December 2008
The God Allusion, The Age, 14 December 2008
Religion in schools to go God-free, The Age, 13 December 2008
Religious Education – some recommendations, Stephen Law Blog, 13 December 2007
Schools’ religious bent should never be a given, The Age, 20 August 2007